CHICAGO – Gone is Marian Hossa, who will sit out next season and may never play in the NHL again due to an allergy condition.
Gone is Artemi Panarin, traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad after two years of offensive dominance. Gone is Niklas Hjalmarsson, the defenseman who contributed to three Stanley Cup championships, traded to the Arizona Coyotes.
“Everyone’s kind of shocked,” said Toews, speaking at the NHL Draft at United Center, after a week of staggering changes for the Blackhawks.
“I could sit here and go on and on about Hammer and Hoss, and just the character and personality they brought to our team. What they’ve proven in the hockey world. But what matters most is what they’ve proven to their teammates,” he said. “To see Bread Man go hurts as well. Even though there’s a language barrier there, he wanted to learn. It’s tough to see a guy like that go after only two seasons with him.”
You could feel the conflict in Toews has he spoke about these changes. On the one hand, the Chicago Blackhawks made aggressive moves that could make them a better team in the short term and, fiscally, in the long run.
On the other hand, it meant saying goodbye to some valued teammates and friends.
“It’s definitely a lot to process right now,” said Toews.
Softening the blow for Toews a bit is the return of Saad, his former linemate in Chicago who was traded to Columbus two years ago due to salary considerations.
“There’s no doubt that getting an old friend and an old teammate back, a friend that you’ve shared that bond with … there’s some reconciliation, if that’s the proper word, in that. That’s the type of guy that’s going to fit into the locker room. In that sense, it’s a win,” said Toews, who appeared at the Draft with Patrick Kane to the delight of home fans.
Bowman said the reacquisition of Saad will benefit Toews, who had his lowest goals per game average in his career last season. “They played together well. You don’t lose that,” said Bowman. “And Brandon’s an even better player now than he was. We’re excited to get him here and reunite him with his teammates.”
Saad’s departure in 2015 was one of many changes Toews and his teammates have seen through the years. Like losing his supporting cast after their 2010 Stanley Cup win or seeing a veteran player like Patrick Sharp dealt or the events of Friday, with two of the team’s biggest contributors traded ahead of the NHL Draft.
“We’ve hit a few road bumps in the last few seasons. Things obviously change. We’ve seen a lot of them over the last five or six years, and those are changes not a lot of us expected. So we’ve learned that things aren’t always going to stay the same in our locker room in Chicago,” said the captain.
What Bowman did through these moves was get younger in flipping Hjalmarsson for defenseman Connor Murphy. He created some cost certainty by dealing Panarin, who will be a free agent in two years, for Saad, who is signed for the next four seasons. He may still find a way to get Hossa’s money off the books rather than stash it on long-term injured reserve next season and beyond.
One could argue he made the Blackhawks better than they were heading into the offseason. But Toews isn’t about to make that argument.
“It’s hard to sit there and say that without sounding like you’re being disrespectful to two teammates that you care for and you know were huge parts of the team. So you can’t really say that,” he said.
“You heard what Stan said in the media. That he felt changes needed to be made. You trust that that he knows what he’s doing.”
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